Overnight visits are one of the best ways for teens to determine whether a college is the right fit for them. Many teens participate in school sanctioned overnight visits with current students, offered by the college admissions office. Others may choose to stay with friends, siblings, or old classmates that currently attend the school they are thinking about applying to.
But while there are many positives about high school students staying overnight at a college, there also may be risks. Research from the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) show that more than half (51%) of high school overnight visitors have reported drinking alcohol on campus. Approximately 1 in 6 of these students say it was the first time they have done so. And 12% of students participating in overnight visits have reported having sexual intercourse, with 50 % of these students saying it was their first time.
Given the recent events in the news about sexual assaults occurring at several prominent college campuses, parents may be concerned about letting their high school student stay on campus.
Stephen Gray Wallace, director of the CARE and former national chairman and CEO of SADD says, “When high school students stay on college campuses, they may feel they have to do what the college kids are doing. College kids hosting high school kids may chose to ‘entertain’ these students by getting them drunk and this can lead to other dangerous behaviors.”
Many high school students assume everyone in high school and in college is partaking in these behaviors. Wallace says, “Teens grossly overestimate their peers’ behavior and this pushes them to engage when they might not actually want to. While studies show that 63% of high school students have used alcohol, that means 37% have not. Teens can find a group and a social life without conforming to what they believe is the ‘norm’.” There are many activities going on at college campuses that do not include drugs or alcohol – students who want these types of activities can seek them out.
How can parents make sure their teen stays safe on college visits?
Accompany your teen on college visits and find accommodations at an off-campus hotel. Says Wallace, “If a teen has to return to their parents’ hotel room, they are more likely not to drink.”
Discuss choices with your teen. Outline different situations that might occur on campus and help your teen to figure out how they will respond when faced with these choices.
If your teen is staying overnight as part of a college program, check with the school to see what policies and expectations they have. Ask how the hosts have been selected and trained. Says Gray Wallace, “Some schools make the host sign a social contract.”
If your teen is staying with a former classmate, make sure they speak to them beforehand to find out what the plans are for the visit. If they do not feel comfortable, suggest they make it a day trip.
Make your teen aware of your expectations. Wallace says, “Most teens do not want to disappoint their parents. If they know upfront what their parents expect of them, they are more likely to try to meet these expectations.”
Have an exit plan. Assuming a parent is staying nearby, tell the teen that they should call if they are feeling unsafe or uncomfortable. Let them know you will pick them up.
Remember these visits are a good look into the future. Teens will be faced with these types of decisions in a few years, and this is a way for them to see how they would handle these situations.
Most importantly, according to Wallace, is that parents and teens keep an open, honest dialogue going. Wallace says, “ More than a decade of research from SADD consistently points to the power of communication in reducing risky behavior on the part of teens. For example, young people whose parents spend time with them and consistently communicate expectations about drinking, drug use and sex are overwhelmingly more likely to make good decisions about personal behavior.”
For more information:
CARE is a national collaborative of institutions and organizations committed to increasing positive youth outcomes and reducing risk behaviors.